The thyroid gland of the human body controls metabolism, or the speed at which the body digests foods and processes feelings associated with hunger and satiation. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the body fails to produce enough thyroid hormone. As a result, those with hypothyroidism experience the symptoms of a slow metabolism. These symptoms include:
- Body temperature fluctuations
- Hair thinning and hair loss
- Unexplained weight gain and/or inability to lose weight
- Dry skin
- Slowed heartbeat
- Changes in calorie consumption
In addition to metabolic conditions, hypothyroidism can lead to other co-morbidities such as autoimmune diseases, decreased internal organ function, and psychological distress. Many individuals with the condition receive their initial diagnosis when seeking medical solutions for weight loss.
Hypothyroidism & Weight
Most people know that proper diet and regular exercise are the cornerstones of maintaining a healthy weight, but some individuals struggle to lose weight, even with dietary changes and consistent exercise. When they do lose weight, they may find it quickly returns with seemingly no changes in their routines. This can be frustrating, and ultimately leads many people to seek medical treatment and explore surgical options.
When a patient seeks medical advice for weight loss, his or her physician will typically look for any history that may indicate a thyroid disorder and then order blood work to determine congenital causes, the presence of any infections, and measure hormone levels. If a thyroid hormone deficiency is discovered, it is treated with medication.
Diagnosing and Treating Hypothyroidism
The thyroid gland produces a hormone called thyroxine, coded as T4, and if a patient’s blood work shows lower than normal T4 levels, the patient has hypothyroidism. Doctors assess proper T4 levels based on the patient’s age, weight, and overall health.
Some patients experience varying degrees of relief from the symptoms of hypothyroidism with medications. Some T4 replacement treatments prove effective for patients with minimal deficiencies, but this treatment may not work for everyone.
Bariatric Surgery for Hypothyroidism
According to a 2017 study from the Obesity Journal, bariatric surgery is an effective treatment for obesity and co-occurring medical conditions, including hypothyroidism. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines obesity as a body mass index of 30 or more.) In the study, patients treated with thyroid replacement therapy experienced significant weight loss and required smaller doses of T4 replacement following their procedures.
Bariatric surgery can improve thyroid function and also reduce a patient’s need for thyroid hormone replacement medications. Bariatric surgery can help jumpstart a patient’s metabolism and empower him or her to make different lifestyle choices that lead to weight loss and higher quality of life.